The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the most photographed events in the world. One look at the colorful, floating balloons against the background of the Rio Grande Valley and you’ll understand why! What’s more, it’s the world’s largest hot air ballooning event, so you can expect nothing short of an enchanting experience.
The ballooning event has roots dating back to 1972, when local radio station 770 KOB Radio rounded up hot air balloons to celebrate the station’s 50th birthday celebration. Thirteen hot air balloons arrived that day, and the event has grown each year since.
Today, the event lasts for nine days in October. During this time, hot air balloons fill the city’s skies.
When is the balloon fiesta??
The ABQ balloon fiesta occurs during early October. This year, the event takes place October 5-13, 2019. In 2020, it will be on October 3-11, and in 2021, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary October 2-10.
Things to Know
The Dawn Patrol is usually the first event, and it kicks off as early as 6 a.m. During this event, a handful of hot air balloons lift off before sunrise, as the pilots test the sky’s conditions. On certain mornings, they take off to choreographed music, making for a dramatic departure. For the weekend events, it’s advised to arrive at the park by 4:30 a.m. to get in and situated before the first event. The fair usually wraps up after a few hours and reopens in the afternoon at 3 p.m.During certain days of the week, and particularly on weekends, the AfterGlow Fireworks Show concludes the day’s events at 8 p.m. To catch the evening events, strive to be at the park by at least 4 p.m.
How is the weather?
You’re probably wondering, what should I wear to the Albuquerque Balloon festival? Keep in mind that although it’s still early autumn, you don’t want to underestimate the morning chill. Dress in layers, as the mornings tend to be around 20-40 F, with temperatures warming up to the 50-70s F during the day. The sun is strong, so be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses, and a hat.
Also, understand that ballooning is extremely dependent on weather, especially the winds. Some pilots may not decide to go up because of the conditions; from time to time, entire events may get canceled at the last minute. As long as safety is not a risk, oftentimes the park itself will remain open, and some pilots may even inflate their balloons just for show. For the most up-to-date information and details from the Pilot Briefings, follow the Balloon Fiesta Twitter account. If events get canceled, you may qualify for admission on another day, so hold onto your tickets.
How to get tickets to the Albuquerque balloon festival?
General tickets for the New Mexico balloon fiesta go on sale six months in advance of the event. You can purchase them over the phone, online, or in-person. The local Balloon Fiesta’s Gift Shop, Costco, and 7-Eleven sell them, too. If you want to avoid standing in long lines at the event, we suggest you buy your tickets in advance.
Want to upgrade? There are several VIP experiences available, including the Gondola Club and Chaser’s Club, which include perks like private parking, special viewing areas, and access to a gourmet buffet. There’s even a Concierge option, in which you’ll have your own personal concierge and golf cart transportation throughout the park.
Food and drink
Guests are welcome to bring in outside food and drink, but glass and alcohol are not permitted. You can also purchase food from the many concession stands set up along Main Street.
Each day has events, but some of the most magical ones include the Mass Ascension and Morning/Evening Glows. The Mass Ascension, perhaps the most anticipated event, has over 500 balloons lift off over the course of two hours. The Morning and Evening Glows occur when the balloons float above the ground, though still tethered, and the pilots use their propane burners to illuminate their balloons at dawn and dusk.
You’re probably wondering how you, too, can take to the skies. Rainbow Ryders is the only hot air balloon company that is permitted to offer rides at the festival. They offer sunrise, sunset, and pre- and post-event rides. Ticket prices vary based on the time and date, but most of them cost a few hundred dollars. If you’re interested in purchasing a ticket, buy in advance to secure a spot in your very own basket.
Other hot air balloon companies offer rides during the festival, but they are required to take off at least 5 miles from the park.
Want more balloons in your life? Check out the gas balloon races and fly-in competitions. The event also has chainsaw carving and car shows. There’s even live music and performances that set up at three different stages.
How to get to the Albuquerque balloon festival?
Visiting from out of town? Book one of our flights to Albuquerque and fly into Albuquerque International Sunport Airport. The main events take place at Balloon Fiesta Park, which is roughly 15 miles north of the airport terminal. Alternatively, if you’re coming into town by train, the Amtrak Alvarado Transportation Center is just 11 miles south of the festival location.
Once you’re already in town, you’ve got plenty of ways to get to the event.
- Driving – If you’d prefer to park, there are on-site parking lots in the north, east, and south ends of the park. Balloon fiesta parking costs $15, and each lot is color coded with a gate number to help you remember where you parked. Keep in mind the weekends can get extremely crowded, meaning lots of traffic and the lots fill up fast. Arrive early for the best chances of snagging a spot!
- Park and Ride – To avoid the congestion, take advantage of the park and ride services. You can park at one of the designated parking lots off-site and take the Balloon Fiesta Express Park & Ride bus to the shindig. For the 2019 event, the off-site lots are located at Coronado Mall, Hoffmantown Church, Cottonwood Mall, and Intel. You must already have a Park and Ride ticket prior to boarding the bus, which you can purchase online or at the Balloon Fiesta Gift Shop.
- Biking – Want to go the eco-friendly route? Trade in four wheels for two and bike to the event. There’s a convenient bike valet area located north of the Balloon Museum. The bike service is free of charge.
Where to stay?
When it comes to finding hotels in Albuquerque, you have a number of neighborhoods to choose from, depending on your preferences.
- Accommodations near Balloon Fiesta Park/North I-25 will place you the closest to the event action.
- Hotels in Historic Old Town and Downtown put you right near other attractions, restaurants, and nightlife.
- East of Downtown and Old Town, you’ll find Nob Hill, which is a trendy, artsy area with hip shops and galleries. Neighborhoods farther from the epicenter are located closer to nature, including Eastside, North Valley, and Westside.
Regardless of where you decide to stay, be sure to book a place far in advance, as hotel rooms fill up quickly. Some hotels offer shuttle access to the park, so find out beforehand if you can catch a convenient ride.
What to do in and around Albuquerque?
Even if you can’t make it to the balloon fiesta, you’re likely to see hot air balloons dotting the skyline from anywhere in town. Typically the balloons float across I-25. Many of the local news stations broadcast the event, too.
Regardless of whether you decide to attend the event or not, the city of Albuquerque will likely be crowded. If you’re looking to venture out of town for a few days before, during, or after the Balloon Fiesta, check out some of these nearby cities and attractions.
- Santa Fe – The capital of New Mexico is roughly an hour northeast of Albuquerque. Santa Fe is an artistic city, and you’ll find your fair share of turquoise jewelry and folk art. Home to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, more than 200 art galleries, and some of the finest Southwestern grub, Santa Fe is a real treat. Spend an afternoon romping around Canyon Road Arts District or venturing around the Santa Fe National Forest.
- Taos – Looking for a little road trip? Taos is around 2 and a half hours northwest of Albuquerque, making it an easy getaway from the hype of the fiesta. Perhaps the most popular attraction in the area is the Taos Pueblo, an ancient pueblo, considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the country. It’s believed that some of the structures were built as early as 1000 A.D. Visitors are welcome to tour certain areas of the village, but are asked to respect the community and not photograph the locals without permission.
- Taos Ski Valley – Ski season won’t start until November, but Taos Valley is still a wonderful place to explore. Hike the trails, mountain bike, and play a round of disc golf. Better yet, take a hot air balloon ride into the gorge and marvel at the fall foliage.
Whether you admire the event from afar or attend all nine days, you’re in for a magical show at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.